Michael Swartz / December 9, 2016

Kelly Presents a Different Approach to Homeland Security

The next man at DHS has an immigration problem to solve.

One of the latest cabinet picks by President-elect Donald Trump is his choice to head up the much-maligned Department of Homeland Security, retired Marine Gen. John Kelly. Until this past February, Gen. Kelly headed U.S. Southern Command, which deals with Central and South America. It was a position that gives him solid background, leaving no question that Gen. Kelly is well-qualified for the job.

The detention facility at Guantanamo Bay fell under his purview, for example, as did several of the nations that provide the bulk of our illegal border-crossers from Central America. These same nations also supply our habit for illegal drugs.

And Kelly also carries the reputation as a straight-shooting honest broker. He would likely be very blunt with critics who complain that Trump is leaning on former military men to fill out the defense and security areas of his cabinet.

Far from wishing to close Guantanamo Bay as his soon-to-be predecessor promised to do, Trump wants to expand operations there. Kelly argues the facility is necessary because “there are no innocent men down there,” adding that “every one [of them] has real, no-kidding intelligence on them that brought them here.” In other words, they’re legitimate threats to homeland security and there’s no appetite for a solution such as Barack Obama proposed that could bring them stateside for holding during a civilian trial. Instead, Kelly understands the Islamic terror threat, noting in a 2013 speech: “Given the opportunity to do another 9/11, our vicious enemy would do it today, tomorrow, and every day thereafter.”

Kelly, though, sees the issues with illegal immigration and the drug trade as two sides of the same coin, and he has the advantages of what’s been described as a “wealth of contacts in [that] part of the world, and his depth of understanding about the socioeconomic and geopolitical dynamics there.” One inside source also opined that Kelly “has better relationships in South America than the State Department does.” So while he will be in charge of building the border wall and believes criminal networks “could unwittingly, or even wittingly, facilitate the movement of terrorist operatives … toward our borders,” Kelly will likely have a much more nuanced view of the situation south of the border than many of Trump’s supporters would.

In fact, the retired general has worked on a part of the solution that the more hard-line members of the Trump coalition may blanch at — additional foreign aid for these troubled nations. As part of the “Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle” — composed of the Central American nations of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — Kelly was part of the process of pledging $1 billion in additional aid to these nations as they attempted to improve the conditions at home to prevent their citizens from coming here or getting involved in the illegal drug trade.

With Trump’s opposition to foreign aid and what he calls poorly designed trade pacts, though, Kelly may have a tougher sell for this economic modernization aspect of security.

But the type of man Gen. Kelly is may be the most important angle here. It’s personified by a speech he gave in 2010, just four days after he became the highest-ranking officer to lose a family member in the Middle East — his son, 1st Lt. Robert Michael Kelly, was killed in Afghanistan when he stepped on a land mine. When Kelly spoke of the bravery of the Marines, he spoke not of his son, but instead of two men he never met: Corporal Jonathan Yale and Lance Corporal Jordan Haerter.

The two Marines were assigned to an Iraqi guard post when a suicide bomber, driving a truck filled with explosives, tried to crash through their checkpoint in front of a compound where more than 150 Marines and Iraqi police were staying. Yale and Haerter stopped the truck at the cost of their lives, perishing when it detonated and leveled the nearby block of houses.

When Kelly went to report on the incident and posthumously commend the men for their selfless actions, an Iraqi policeman who survived the blast told him, “in the name of God no sane man would have stood there and done what [Yale and Haerter] did.” Kelly went on to reveal that a security camera captured the last six seconds before the truck exploded, killing the pair: “The truck explodes. The camera goes blank. Two young men go to their God. Six seconds. Not enough time to think about their families, their country, their flag, or about their lives or their deaths, but more than enough time for two very brave young men to do their duty … into eternity. That is the kind of people who are on watch all over the world tonight-for you.”

If at a time of unspeakable personal tragedy a man can care enough about his country to confide the unvarnished truth about the men that defend her, you can believe he’ll pay heed to our homeland security.

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